Joe Arlaukas chats up two-time EuroLeague finalist
In the latest episode of The Crossover, Joe Arlauckas gets to know Maccabi Tel Aviv's Ioannis Sfairopoulos, who bided his time as a long-term assistant before skyrocketing into the top echelon of Turkish Airlines EuroLeague head coaches over the last seven seasons.
The son of a soccer pro, Sfairopoulos chose basketball as his sport, but by age 21, had given up playing to coach his amateur club, Apollon Kalamarias, in his hometown of Thessaloniki. In his 11th season there, Apollon won Greece's third-division title, earning him an assistant coach's slot at nearby PAOK, where he stayed seven seasons, one as head coach, while also assisting for the Greek national team. Though he rarely slept in those predigital years full of scouting and video analysis, Sfairopoulos considers his assistant coaching experience essential to his formation.
11:20 "Whatever I did all those years up to this moment – and I continue to do – is always to learn and to be better and improve myself," Sfairopoulos says. "I didn't know until what point I would reach in my career, to what level I would go, but I worked as hard as I could."
His learning process continued in the EuroLeague as Sfairopoulos joined Olympiacos Piraeus for three seasons starting in 2005, coaching under former champions Jonas Kazlauskas, Pini Gershon and Panagiotis Giannakis. After a spell as head coach for Kolossos Rhodes in the Greek League, Sfairopoulos reunited with Kazlauskas at CSKA Moscow. That fateful 2011-12 season – which ended with his old team, Olympiacos, rallying to take the EuroLeague title on the last play between two players he knew well already, Vassilis Spanoulis and Georgios Printezis – taught another lesson.
44:53 "Basketball is like life," Sfairopoulos says. "No matter how many times you fall down – because in basketball you also fall down after a bad loss – you have to stand back on your feet and continue to move and to run. This is the idea out of this game, and this is also the example if we transfer basketball actions to life."
After spending the next two years leading Panionios in the EuroCup, Sfairopoulos got the call to return to EuroLeague champion Olympiacos as head coach after Georgios Bartzokas stepped down early in the 2014-15 season. Six months later, Olympiacos overcame FC Barcelona's playoffs home-court advantage to reach the Final Four and then rallied from 9 points down with 4 minutes left to beat CSKA in the semifinals. Although Final Four host Real Madrid proved too much for the Reds in the championship game, Sfairopoulos had become just the second EuroLeague rookie head coach this century to reach the finals.
1:01:20 "My first year, to qualify to the Final Four as a head coach in the EuroLeague, that was like a dream," Sfairopoulos says.
He and Olympiacos would return to the title game in 2017, only to lose again to a club playing in its home city, Fenerbahce Istanbul. The following year, Sfairopoulos left Olympiacos, but later in 2018 got the call to help resuscitate Maccabi, which had missed the playoffs ever since its EuroLeague title run in 2014. It was love at first sight between Sfairopoulos and the Maccabi fans, who recognized immediately the seriousness and change of attitude he brought to their team.
1:23:50 "They gathered me, they hugged me from the first moment," Sfairopoulos says. "The love I received and am still receiving from Maccabi fans, I will never forget in my life. This is something unique, only here. And I love them too because this goes vice-versa. As we said, whatever you get, you give. Whatever you give, you get. They gave me love: I give them love. I wish we could have them in these games now. It's very strange and very difficult the game without them. It's a completely different game. I'm not saying that if we had them we could win more games on our homecourt: this is obvious. But the game, basketball, is different without fans."
With a one-hour format of exclusive one-on-one interviews, The Crossover with Joe Arlauckas goes well beyond the playing court with each podcast to delve into the life experiences that have made his guests protagonists and legends of the EuroLeague. The Crossover debuted in 2018 and has featured such current stars as Toko Shengelia, Shane Larkin and Kyle Hines, coaching greats such as Ettore Messina, Pablo Laso and Zeljko Obradovic, and legends like Theo Papaloukas, Nikola Vujcic and Mike Batiste, among others. The first guests in Season 3 were FC Bayern Munich Coach Andrea Trinchieri and Zalgiris Kaunas star Marius Grigonis.
The Crossover with Joe Arlauckas is available on Youtube, iTunes, Audioboom, Spotify, Deezer, RadioPublic, Google Podcasts, TuneIn, Stitcher, CastBox, iVoox and other platforms.